Demi Lovato is feisty, confident, and not afraid to deal with her demons publicly. The singer sounds off on life.
By Brooke Hauser
Photographed by Alexi Lubomirski
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At 23, she is a new breed of celebrity for a generation that demands 24/7 access to their idols, and for the most part, she supplies it—live. Want to see what she looks like au naturel? Check out her No-Makeup Monday (#NMM) selfies on Instagram (27.2 million followers and counting) or her now-famous shoot for Vanity Fair. “You can’t get more real or stripped-down than no clothes, no makeup, no Photoshop,” says Lovato, who suggested that approach. When she wiped out on stage during a performance of her single “Cool for the Summer,” she didn’t try to hide it. Instead, she posted a video to Twitter (31.8 million followers and counting) along with the caption “#NOTCoolForTheSummer #FuckIt.”
“Hashtag FuckIt” might as well be her motto: No one is braver when it comes to giving fans an unfiltered look at her life. So it’s hardly surprising when Lovato doesn’t suggest the standard, impersonal interview setup, a table for two at a trendy restaurant. Her preference is foot rubs in a private room at a downtown Manhattan spa. The space is dimly lit, and we’re wearing white terry-cloth robes, facing each other on twin massage beds. A bit more intimate than sparkling water and a fruit plate.
There may be another reason Lovato wanted to do this interview while lying down: She’s exhausted. In fact, at one point, I ask her a question and get a groggy mumble in response. “The last time I…” she begins, as her eyelids flutter closed and her voice trails off. She dozes for a minute. “I’m so sorry!” she says, suddenly bolting up. “That did not just happen.”
Lovato’s willingness to let her guard down is precisely what her fans love about her. Want to know what a pop megastar’s life is really like? Well, voilà: It’s relentless. In the days before our interview, Lovato played a concert in Brazil (“The fans down there are so crazy in a good way—they’re the type that beat on your car,” she says), performed her hit song “Confident” at Hillary Clinton’s birthday party (“I dedicated it to her—she is a very strong and empowering woman”), and posed for selfies with countless obsessed admirers, known as Lovatics.
It’s no wonder that, as she puts it, “my brain is like Swiss cheese”—not that she’s complaining. “It’s an exciting time in my career right now,” she says. For those who need a catch-up: Lovato recently released her fifth studio album, Confident, and currently she’s gearing up for her Future Now world tour with Nick Jonas, her close friend and business partner. (Along with their manager, Phil McIntyre, they founded the music label Safehouse Records.)
Shortly before we met, Lovato also announced that she had signed a contract with the Wilhelmina modeling agency. “I wanted to do some covers that I hadn’t done before and be seen in a different light in the fashion industry,” she says, and yet “model” is a label that still catches her by surprise. “I feel like laughing when you call me a model. Now that I’ve learned to accept my body for what it is naturally, it’s funny how that’s when I get a modeling contract.”
Designer clothes aside, Lovato has been modeling attitude and independence for years. She is the antithesis of the sugarcoated pop star, with her slashed jet-black hair and constellation of tattoos. And while she’s hardly the first young star to rebel against her Disney roots, she was one of the first to speak candidly about her demons. In 2010, while on tour with the Jonas Brothers, Lovato made headlines for punching a backup dancer while traveling to Peru; she checked herself into a rehab facility shortly thereafter.
In the years since then, Lovato has incorporated her struggles into her music and her message, talking about her battles with anorexia and bulimia, self-harm, and drug abuse. (In 2013, two years after being diagnosed with bipolar disorder, she wrote a New York Times best-seller, Staying Strong: 365 Days a Year [Faiwel & Friends].) Along the way, she has gotten both support and criticism for her outspokenness. “I’ll have people who are like, ‘Stop talking about eating disorders. Like, we get it. You struggled. Now shut up,’ ” she says, unfazed. “I’m sure they get tired of reading about it, because I get tired of talking about it, but this summer I started wearing sexier stuff, and I got some hate for that—like, ‘You’ve changed.’ ” She smiles at the irony. “It’s like, What’s wrong with being confident enough to wear this?”
It’s a refrain that has struck a chord with fans of all ages and particularly with young women, who, more and more, are idolizing bold, unapologetic, tough-girl heroines. And Lovato’s latest style evolution is as much of a declaration as her music itself. “I’ve never felt as confident in my skin as I do today,” says Lovato. “A year ago, on tour, almost every inch of my body was covered by clothing, and it was because I was hiding behind so many layers. Once I started feeling better about myself, I felt better about showing more skin. I have insecurities about my arms, so to wear a tank top on stage is extremely liberating for me, and uncomfortable sometimes. It’s also a statement, like, ‘Hey, watch out. You’re no longer getting the insecure Demi that you’ve been getting for the past couple of years. I mean business now.’ ”
For all her swagger, there’s a warmth and a vulnerability to Lovato, who hugs me at the end of our interview and asks if she can pat my pregnant belly. The asking is important: One of the biggest challenges of interacting with fans, she says, is the constant physical contact. “Fans will oftentimes feel that they can just up and wrap their arms around me,” she says. “I love hugging people, but several hundred people in a row…it’s overwhelming.”
As much as Lovato has embraced life in the public eye, you get the feeling that, at least some of the time, she’d rather be at home on the Internet. She regularly visits Pinterest for wedding inspiration (no immediate plans, she says: “I had my wedding planned out when I was ten”) and home-renovation ideas. Raised in Dallas by her mother and stepfather (her parents divorced when she was two), Lovato got her first big role, at age seven, on TV’s Barney & Friends—yes, the purple dinosaur—a credit that amuses her to this day. “The guy who played Barney was actually hot. In order to be in that giant suit all day, sweating and jumping around, you have to be ripped,” Lovato says and laughs. Lovato soon moved with her family to Los Angeles, where she began auditioning for other television shows. She ultimately landed a part, at age 15, in the 2008 Disney Channel movie Camp Rock, costarring the Jonas Brothers, and got her own show, Sonny With a Chance.
In 2009, photos surfaced showing Lovato with cutting scars on her wrist, and a year later, she sought treatment for bulimia. Ultimately, she decided to come forward and address the issues. “I realized I could help people,” she says. When a young star shares the unvarnished truth, she adds, “it creates a conversation—there’s an opening for children themselves to actually come forward and say, ‘This is what I’m dealing with.’ Or ‘I have a problem. I need help.’”
Maybe it’s her Disney training, but at times, Lovato sounds a bit like the star of her own ABC Afterschool Special. She is hyperaware of her role-model duties and has no shortage of learned lessons to share, especially when it comes to staying healthy, in body and in mind. She is a big proponent of self-care—hence the foot massages. On the road, she exercises regularly and relies on a nutritionist to send her meals. “My food choices don’t rule my life anymore,” she says.
She also counts on people in her life to keep her in check. “Wilmer is that person,” she says of her boyfriend of around five years, actor Wilmer Valderrama, 35; her best friend, Marissa, is another. “Sometimes I’ll isolate a little bit. I won’t reply to people’s text messages, or I’ll just distance myself from everyone unintentionally, and she’s the first one to call me out on it,” Lovato says. “It’s because I’m going through something. I’m stressed or depressed.” Lovato says her late father was schizophrenic, and she started a program to help people struggling with mental health or addiction problems pay for rehabilitation. But just as important, she has given visibility to these issues simply by talking about them. (Among her many causes, she is the spokeswoman for the campaign Be Vocal: Speak Up for Mental Health.)
Still, she is starting to become more tight-lipped about her personal life. “I don’t want to alienate my love life from the public, because it’s such a huge part of who I am,” she says. “It’s a balancing act.” Later, she adds, “I can’t always let people in as much as they feel like they deserve to be let in.”
She’s also setting more boundaries in terms of her personal space. Just last night, she confronted two female fans who started complaining loudly when she didn’t stop to take a picture with them—at midnight—outside her hotel. “I heard them start to talk, and one girl goes, ‘Oh, really? Are you shitting me, you’re just going to walk inside? You’re tired?’ ” Lovato recalls. “So I walked inside and called my security guard. I was like, ‘Go get that girl. Bring her in here.’ He brought the girls in. I said, ‘Listen, I’m so grateful that you guys come to the hotel and support me, and I never want you to feel like I take you for granted. But I cannot stop every single time, and that gives you no excuse to disrespect me…because I have too much respect for myself.’ I ended up taking a picture with her.” Lovato shrugs. “I didn’t want to be mean, just, like, ‘Hey, I’m a human, too.’ ”